I.Theme – God comes to all us, includes all in his mercy and calls us to lead lives of justice
"Jesus and the Canaanite Woman" – Jean Colombe
The lectionary readings are here or individually
Old Testament – Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm – Psalm 67 Page 675, BCP
Epistle –Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Gospel – Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Three ingredients come together to create a celebratory mix in this week’s Lectionary: The first is God’s salvation (expressed in terms of justice and mercy); the second is God’s blessing given to those who are saved; and the third is the inclusion of "foreigners" and "outcasts". The expansion of the gospel beyond the boundaries of Judaism does not supersede God’s love for Israel, but reflects God’s love and inspiration of all people. The focus, then, of this week’s worship is on God’s coming to us, welcoming all people, and including all people in God’s mercy, salvation and blessing, while also calling all people to lives of justice.
In Isaiah 5 , God calls God’s people to justice and fairness because God promises to come to them and bring not just God’s people, but also the foreigners and outcasts, to worship and to be blessed by God on God’s mountain.
Psalm 67 is a psalm of praise for God’s blessings and mercy, which calls all nations to join in praising God for God’s saving power.
In Romans 11, the apostle Paul affirms God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people. There is no room for anti-Judaism in Christianity. God’s providential gifts of grace are irrevocable. God has made an eternal covenant with the children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. God’s revelation in Christ expands God’s covenant to include all the peoples of the earth. God will have mercy on disobedient people everywhere, whether Jew or Gentile.
The question of being chosen once again is ambiguous. An omnipresent and omni-active God, for whom love is the guiding principle, chooses all creation. No one is left out. This is problematic for those who see the Jewish people and nation, or any other nation, as absolutely unique. As some prophetic writings suggest, Israel was chosen for a mission, to be a light to the Gentiles, bringing God’s love to all peoples.
The gospel reading places Jesus in an unusual light. When a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus to seek healing for her daughter, Jesus puts her off, apparently excluding her because of her ethnicity from God’s healing realm. The woman persists and eventually Jesus relents, apparently impressed by the depth of her faith and her willingness to experience humiliation for the love of her daughter. Jesus cures her daughter from a distance; his energy transcends the boundaries of space.
This story also portrays another kind of transcendence, the transcendence of ethnic and personal barriers for the sake healing and wholeness. Now, there are a number of ways to interpret the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman. At first glance, Jesus appears to succumb to the racist tendencies that characterized the attitudes of many Jewish people toward foreigners. He puts her off because, as a Canaanite, she is unworthy of God’s love. A second interpretation suggests that Jesus is testing her faith, trying to discern how much she loves her daughter and what she is willing to do to secure a healing for her daughter. Finally, a third interpretation asserts that Jesus may be creating a trap for those who see the woman as an inferior outsider. He acts and speaks like a racist, getting their insider assent, and then pulls the rug out from under them by healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter. From this perspective, the encounter is a parable, a reversal of expectations, a turning upside down of socially acceptable racism in light of God’s realm of inclusion and healing.
However, we understand the meaning of the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, the story portrays Jesus’ eventual inclusion of non-Jewish people into his ministry. God’s healing embraces all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, or sexuality. Mature faith widens the circles of God’s love to go beyond our well-being to embrace and support the various gifts of the earth’s peoples.
Earlier in the readings, Jesus explains that it is not what we eat that defiles us but the evil that is in our hearts. Then he is approached by a Canaanite woman who convinces him, in spite of his initial reluctance, to heal her daughter who is being tormented by a demon.